Tag Archives: Westport News

West Bank Action

First there was Saugatuck.

Then came Church Lane.

Soon, another sleepy area of town may be revitalized, with the arrival of new restaurants.

This time it’s the west bank of the Saugatuck River. Though an easy walk from downtown, few folks bother. Mentally, that area — behind the Inn at National Hall, next to Save the Children — has been No Man’s Land.

Now it may play Brooklyn, to downtown’s Manhattan.

The Westport News reports that on May 17, the Planning and Zoning Commission hears proposals for 2 new dining spots.

The owners of Fairfield’s Safita hope to open a Middle Eastern restaurant at 6 Wilton Road. That’s the old Vigilant firehouse. It housed a couple of pizza places; more recently it was a kitchen store.

Plans call for 50 seats, a bar and an outdoor patio. Very cool.

The Vigilant firehouse that may house the Middle Eastern restaurant is the slender building in the left-center of this photo. The MOJA restaurant would go on its right.

Also on the menu: MOJA Restaurant & Bar, planned for 12 Wilton Road next door to the former firehouse. The News says the menu would offer Japanese cuisine and “elements of South American flavors to make a very tasty, healthy and distinctive fare that will resonate with kids, teens and adults young and old.”

Despite Westport’s many eateries, we do not have a Japanese/South American spot for every age group. So that’s good.

The restaurants are part of a broader redevelopment planned for the area, including National Hall.

More parking is in the works. But I’d still like to see some kind of footbridge, luring linking people over the river, to the interesting architecture and offerings — culinary and otherwise — across the way.

Until then, here’s wishing good luck to the intrepid owners serving up a couple of new restaurants in a section of town that certainly needs them.

“Scoop” Schuyler

In the 1910s, Phil Schuyler joined the Canadian Royal Air Force.  He was an American — a descendant, in fact, of Philip Schuyler, a general in the American Revolution and U.S. senator from New York — but the Canadians accepted 18-year-olds.

He became a pilot, and crashed his Curtiss Jenny airplane into Lake Ontario.

Phil Schuyler, in his Canadian Royal Air Force days.

Schuyler enrolled in Harvard, graduated in 1921, and joined United Press Association — the forerunner of UPI — as a reported.  Working for various New York City dailies, he became friends with E.B. White.

In mid-career he started his own PR firm.  He founded the Hickok Belt in 1950 — given to the best professional athlete of the year.  Rocky Marciano was an early recipient.  One of the few failures of Schuyler’s career was trying to get the trophy back, to award to the next recipient.

Schuyler also helped founded the Young Presidents Organization, for people who become CEOs of major companies before their 45th birthdays.  YPO still exists today.

Still later, he worked for Editor & Publisher.  His last assignment was to write a story about the news coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy.  He was so involved with this project that, years later, his mind tricked him into thinking he was actually in Dallas that day.  He went to his grave believing he was an eyewitness.

After retiring from E&P, he became the Westport News sports editor.  He was not averse to juicing up stories — making them more dramatic — but he was a very good writer, and he taught his craft well.  I know that first-hand:  He was my 1st boss, when I worked for the News the summer after my junior year at Staples.

Phil Schuyler, in his later years.

Schuyler married into the Bennett family.  He lived on South Compo Road, in a home that belong to the Bennetts since the 1700s.  He loved playing tennis, and one of his favorite courts was Parke Cummings’ — one of the first in Westport, and not far down the road.

His family knew him as “Pops.”  At the paper, his nickname was “Scoop.”

Schuyler’s last act as a reporter was to write his own obituary.  It ran, fittingly, in the Westport News.

After his death, a Staples Tuition Grants scholarship was founded in his name.  For several decades, aspiring journalists have benefited from the Phil Schuyler Scholarship.

Funds have nearly run out now.  One more link to a unique Westporter is in danger of fading away.  Perhaps a few folks — maybe those long-ago athletes he wrote about so “creatively” — will make a donation, to keep “Scoop” Schuyler’s memory alive.

(Donations to the Philip Schuyler Fund can be sent c/o Staples Tuition Grants, PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881-5159.  Click here to donate online.)

Remembering Dexter Brooks

Much of B.V. Brooks’ life seems to come from an earlier, more traditional New England era.

His real name was Babert Vincent.  His nickname was “Dexter.”  He attended Deerfield Academy and Dartmouth College.  Like his father — also named B.V. — Dexter was a faithful Yankee Republican.

B.V. Brooks

He followed his father into real estate development.  (In the 1950s, B.V. Sr. developed one of Westport’s 1st shopping strips — Westfair Center, opposite what is now Super Stop & Shop — and an adjacent housing development behind it.  Dexter Road is named for his son.)

In 1964, the Brooks family launched a new local paper, the Westport News.  According to Woody Klein’s history of Westport, it was formed as an opposition voice to the established Town Crier, seen as “the voice of the Republicans in power.”  The Brookses were aligned with Westport’s more conservative Taxpayers Party.

Ironically, the News made its biggest name — and ultimately drove the Town Crier out of business — with a very un-Republican crusade.  In 1967 United Illuminating announced plans to build a 14-story nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island, less than a mile off Compo Beach.

Brooks’ paper — led by its activist editor, Jo Brosious — began a 2-year crusade against the utility company’s purchase.  In 1969, the town of Westport bought Cockenoe for $200,000.  Our water has been swimmable — and our homes safe — ever since.

The News tilted more Republican in later years, but Dexter Brooks never was a ham-fisted, you’ll-say-it-my-way-or-be-gone publisher.  I should know:  I spent 3 years as sports editor there, and my byline has appeared in the paper ever since I was a Staples junior.

In 1999 the Brooks family sold the Westport News — and its other Brooks Community Newspapers, in towns like Fairfield, Norwalk, Darien and Greenwich — to the Thomson chain.  Dexter stepped down as publisher that year.

He remained president of the Brooks, Torrey and Scott real estate company.  It was another family business:  Torrey and Scott are the names of his sons.

(Fun fact:  Brooks Corner — where his newspaper and real estate company once had offices — is named for the family.  The fact that Brooks Brothers now has a clothing store there is pure coincidence.)

Dexter Brooks’ impact on Westport — both as a real estate developer and a publisher — were enormous.

And no one could say he did not know his town.

Woody Klein’s book contains an anecdote about Dexter Brooks.  Once, a fellow member of the New England Press Association asked him how a small town like Westport could support an 84-page paper.  Where did so much news and so many ads come from? he asked.

“You don’t know Westport,” Brooks replied.

He explained that thanks to shoppers from far and wide, the town’s retail sales per capita were the highest in the state.

“The number and quality of restaurants is renowned far and wide,” he continued.  Home prices and income levels were quite high too.

But, Brooks continued, statistics did not tell the whole story.

At the heart of the difference here, in my opinion, is the dynamics, the widespread activism that engulfs Westport.  We kid that the shortest time span in the world is the time between when the light turns green and the guy behind you blows his horn.

And Westport boasts the world’s shortest time for organizing a group “pro” and a group “con” on any local issue.

Dexter Brooks died on Thursday, after suffering a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico.  He was 84.

His family’s legacy — and his own — will live for years.

A New Patch For Westport

In the mid-1960s the upstart Westport News challenged the established, staid Town Crier.

Earlier this decade WestportNow.com roared onto the scene, altering the speed and means by which Westporters got their news.

This week, Westport’s media landscape changes again.

Westport Patch is scheduled to launch Wednesday, the day after elections.  Like its sister sites in Wilton, Darien, New Canaan and Ridgefield — and Westport-type communities in New Jersey, including Maplewood, Scotch Plains and Westfield — Westport Patch is one answer to the undeniably decreasing (and fast fading) role newspapers play in American society.

It’s also a higher-tech, more interactive — and sexier — version of WestportNow, one of the 1st such sites in the nation, and at the time a pioneer of the community website genre.

The Westport News website is similar to Patch — though many news stories, editorials and police reports are posted after they appear in print.  The News site has not yet gained traction in town.

 

Westport Patch will include breaking news stories and photos.  It’s also got:

  • Maps — so when you read about (I’m making this up) a rash of burglaries on Peaceful Lane, you’ll know exactly where it happened
  • Videos — the Darien site includes a story on new lights for peewee football fields; the RTM rules committee going “off the record,” and a Darien High traffic campaign that students don’t like
  • Announcements of coming events, births, even — hey, this is what hyper-local means — a mention that “Fred Gaston, 50, of Wilton finished in 8th place in Sunday’s New Canaan-to-Wilton Great Train Race”
  • Sports results — this is pretty flexible; the Darien site recently noted “DHS Wizards Gear Up for Quidditch”
  • Classifieds
  • Police and Fire reports
  • Restaurant reviews
  • A townwide directory, with info on everything from beaches, businesses and doctors to the railroad station, town officials and movie theaters (a slim category in Westport, for sure)
  • Comments by users

Interactivity is key.  Anyone can add events to the community calendar — and post announcements,  photos, even videos.

Each Patch has its own editor.  Westport’s is Liz Mitchell.  She’s completely new here, but spent the past several weeks learning the town.  She’s met with everyone from Staples principal John Dodig and police chief Al Fiore to First Selectman Gordon Joseloff — who just happens to be the founder of WestportNow.com.

Westport Patch is free.  It is not, however, a non-profit.  Patch Media Corporation is owned by AOL.  Word on the street is that AOL is pouring big bucks into the 12 existing Patches (with dozens more to be rolled out soon).

How will Patch make money?  A 2-tiered ad system allows business owners to create online ads.  Patch’s sales team works with individual businesses to “best satisfy their needs.”

Westport Patch’s influence on Westport could be profound.  It could alter the way we get information about our town, and discuss that info.

It could help spread news about activities and events in an unprecedented, unfathomable way — bringing folks together in a cyber version of the old town square.  For a good part of the 20th century, Westport’s main source of news was the Town Crier. A new town crier soon bursts on the scene.

Having said that, the jury is out.  I’ve spoken to people in several communities that already have Patch.  They like it a lot — but it hasn’t become a habit.  It has yet to generate a buzz, they say — they don’t hear friends and neighbors saying, “Oh, did you see on Patch today…?”

Perhaps that’s because those towns don’t have a WestportNow, so they haven’t gotten into the habit of turning to their computers for local news.  Or perhaps — like Betamax — it’s a great idea at the wrong time.

No one yet knows if this Patch will stick.  But one thing is for sure:  On Wednesday, the big news in town will be the news itself.

(“06880” likes the idea of Westport Patch — and thinks there’s a place in town for a blog and another news source.  Time will tell.)

Millburn Patch

A screen shot from the Millburn (NJ) Patch

“News” News

For over 30 years the Westport News was the proud anchor of Brooks Corner, among downtown’s most prime real estate.

Current tenant Brooks Brothers has nothing to do with the corner’s name; it’s just a coincidence.  “Brooks” is B.V. Brooks, who founded the News.  It was, its motto clunkily declared, “A hometown newspaper in a town of homes.”

In the mid-1960s the News was a feisty tabloid upstart — David to the staid, gray Town Crier Goliath. 

The Westport News earned its chops early.  Fearless editor Jo Brosious led a spirited fight against United Illuminating — the public utility that hoped to buy Cockenoe Island for use as a  nuclear power plant.  Thanks to the paper, our shore today is pristine — and Westport is not Three Mile Island.

That crusade made the News indispensible.  For 3 decades it chronicled town life.  Its downtown location was geographically smart, and journalistically symbolic.  It pulsed with Westport’s beat, because it sat right there at its heart.

The move a few years ago to Sconset Square was symbolic too.  Brooks  Corner could command higher rents from 2nd-story office tenants (the paper had long since moved from its ground-floor space).  Though the News’ new newsroom was just a few steps away, the rickety staircase and shrinking staff lowered its profile, lessening its impact throughout town.

Last year the paper moved from Westport entirely.  No longer owned by B.V. Brooks — the “Brooks Community Newspaper” name is a final, vestigial nod to the local past — the News decamped to an antiseptic office building in Norwalk.  True, it was right over the Westport line — but the symbolism was again strong.  The “hometown newspaper” had left its “town of homes.”

Yesterday the News moved again.  Hopscotching Westport, it leaped over to Fairfield.  The paper now shares office space with the Fairfield Citizen, and is overseen by Citizen editor Frances Moore.  Two key staffers — editor Will Rowlands and lifestyle editor Carol King —  were among 44 Connecticut journalists whose positions were eliminated Friday by Hearst, the current owner.

Another 80 jobs are on the chopping block soon, according to reports.

A new chapter has begun in the Westport News’ long history.  For news lovers’ sakes — and the best, most informed interests of our town — let’s hope this story ends well.

Mug Shot Mania

Admit it:  Your favorite part of the Westport News is the Police Reports.

There are run-of-the-mill busts, for DUI and pot.  There are bar fights, road rage fights, fights over who’s a better fighter.  And there are truly cringe-inducing arrests, which we find so hard to read we read them several times.

It’s the same all over the country.  Perhaps the only way to save the sclerotic newspaper industry is to eliminate everything except police news.  Who needs Pulitzers when you’ve got schadenfreude?

But with a special website, Florida’s St. Petersburg Times has elevated police reports to an art form.

The site — admit it, you already clicked the link — shows actual mug shots of people arrested within the past 24 hours in a 3-county area.  Clicking a photo gives important information like height, weight and the actual crime — er, alleged crime.  A notice on the home page explains: “Those appearing here have not been convicted…and are presumed innocent. Do not rely on this site to determine any person’s actual criminal record.”

Of course not!  Putting their mugs on a site called Mugshots Tampa Bay is strictly — what, amusement?  For research purposes only?

Speaking of research, you can consult Mugshots Tampa Bay’s handy graph to determine criminal statistics — I mean, alleged criminal statistics — over the past 60 days.  For example, during the past 2 months 50 folks arrested weighed under 100 pounds — and 94 weighed over 300.  Who knew?

Despite its evident popularity in greater Tampa Bay — and here too, judging by all of you who already checked out the link (and clicked on auxiliary news stories, like “During Traffic Stop, 20-year-old Explains His Vices”) — I don’t think we could replicate that site in Westport.

Our mug shots would have much better lighting.